It’s Earth Week!

April 22, 2015, marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. A holiday first introduced by US Senator Gaylord Nelson and fellow environmentalists in 1970, Earth Day is now a world-wide celebration that seeks to raise awareness of environmental problems and human beings’ role in creating—and hopefully solving—them. Rochesterians use Earth Day, and usually the week—or even month—around it, as a time to reflect on their environmental impact, but also to work towards meaningful change in human-environment interactions. Taking a “think globally, act locally” approach, we plant flowers and trees, pick up litter, recycle, conserve water and electricity, hold environmental fairs, attend lectures, discuss films, commune with nature, and more, all in the spirit of conservation and beautification of our natural surroundings.

Mayor Robert Duffy addresses young volunteers wearing Clean Sweep shirts during Earth Day activities at the Genesee Valley Park pavilion, April 2007. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Mayor Robert Duffy addresses young volunteers wearing Clean Sweep shirts during Earth Day activities at the Genesee Valley Park pavilion, April 2007. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group portrait of volunteers involved in a scavenger hunt and Earth Day clean up, April 2008. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group portrait of volunteers involved in an Earth Day clean up, April 2008. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Had I written this post on Wednesday, as I had originally intended, I would have been able to wish you a Happy Earth Day. Alas, before I knew it, Wednesday became Thursday became Friday, and the post remained unwritten. Fortunately for me, today happens to be another worthy, environmentally related holiday: Arbor Day! Better still for me, a historian who appreciates such things, Arbor Day predates Earth Day by nearly a century. And so it works out that I am able to wish you a very timely, “Happy Arbor Day,” and tell you a little about the history of this holiday (as I am wont to do).

Arbor Day was first celebrated in the United States in Nebraska in 1872. The goal was to plant trees to “spruce up” the Great Plains, so to speak. The idea for a holiday devoted to trees originated with newspaperman, nature enthusiast, and upstate New York native Julius Sterling Morton. Morton and his fellow pioneers realized that trees were important for providing fuel, building materials, paper (and, thus, newspapers!), erosion control, shelter from the sun and wind, animal habitats, and more. Not to mention trees are pretty to look at. As Morton himself proclaimed, “The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see this culture become universal.” Beyond the pragmatic and aesthetic value of this natural resource, Morton recognized the responsibility humans have as stewards of their planet: “Each generation takes the earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consume.”[1]

Morton used his newspaper to spread the word about the value of trees and environmental stewardship and encouraged his readers to set aside a specific day to plant trees. In 1872, Nebraska’s Board of Agriculture backed his idea and declared April 10 the first official Arbor Day. Morton and his fellow Nebraskans reportedly planted over a million trees that year. Other states soon followed suit, including New York, with its 1888 “Act to Encourage Arboriculture.”

Since that time, Rochesterians have celebrated Arbor Day with the expected tree-planting ceremonies, some accompanied by more pomp and circumstance than others.

A group portrait of the 108th Infantry Regiment of New York, taken at Seneca Park during an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

A group portrait of the 108th Infantry Regiment of New York, taken at Seneca Park during an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony, ca 1900. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

A group of children raise their hands in the air as part of an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group of children raise their hands in the air as part of an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A tree is planted during an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A tree is planted during an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Washington Grammar School No. 26, on Clifford, was especially dedicated to celebrating the holiday in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, making Arbor Day the date of their annual picnic in Seneca Park. Our city’s enthusiasm for tree planting earned it recognition as a “Tree City USA” by the National Arbor Day Foundation in 1981, and every year since then.

Sometimes celebrated on April 22 (Morton’s birthday), Arbor Day has fallen anywhere from January to May, varying by year and location. When Earth Day appropriated the April 22 date in 1970, National Arbor Day became the last Friday in April (although different states still celebrate it at different times, depending on planting conditions). And so here we are, celebrating Arbor Day in Rochester on this last Friday in April 2015. Now go plant a tree! (By the way, our state tree is the Sugar Maple, for those of you who were wondering…)

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

[1] “What is Arbor Day?” Arbor Day Foundation newsletter, https://www.arborday.org/celebrate/documents/learn-more.pdf, accessed April 24, 2015.

Bells Across the Land – A Nation Remembers Appomattox

Tomorrow, April 9, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, represented by the historic meeting between Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Here in Rochester, the Friends of Mount Hope will mark the anniversary by ringing the Mount Hope Cemetery north gatehouse bell at 3:15 p.m., joining bells in churches, temples, schools, city halls, public buildings, historic sites, and others across the land taking part in a National Park Service commemoration. A brief program will follow, featuring re-enactor representatives from both sides of the conflict, and period anthems played on fife and drum. It should be a fun and informative event!

CIVIL WAR COMMEMORATION EVENT
Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.
Mount Hope Cemetery North Gatehouse
791 Mount Hope Avenue, opposite Robinson Drive

Submitted by Sue O’Neill, Azalea Neighborhood Association & Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery

Published in: on April 8, 2015 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Family Detectives Club announces its April/May schedule

Join us for the last few sessions before summer! Remember: the library is closed on Sundays beginning May 10. Get your genealogy fix while you can!

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Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Local History announces its March 2015 Family Detectives Club Schedule

FamDetClub_MAR_2015_HSIf you haven’t visited the Local History & Genealogy Division in awhile, March will be a great time to check it out. The Family Detectives Club has several exciting programs planned that will introduce participants to the Division’s new floor plan (see previous posts and watch for more news in future days and weeks). You’ll also learn about some new databases you can use here for free, including Historic Map Works and NYS Sanborn fire insurance maps.

Please join us! New members are always welcome. And remember, parking is free in the Court Street garage on Sundays.

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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George A. Custer Letters on Rochester Voices

A few years ago, the Local History and Genealogy Division received a generous grant from the Gleason Foundation to create an interactive, mobile-friendly website that engages K-12 students, as well as the general public, in the study of local, state, national, and even global history by allowing users to explore the letters, diaries, interviews, and other personal accounts of Rochesterians who experienced the past first-hand. The result is Rochester Voices, a website that offers direct digital access to the unique historical materials from the Local History and Genealogy Division’s special collections, and those of our partners. Visit the site here and discover these stories of the past for yourself.

Portrait (Main)

The most recent addition to Rochester Voices is the George A. Custer collection, prepared for online publication by one of our impressively talented student interns, Shane Swann (SUNY Brockport). Although the famous Civil War general was not actually from Rochester, he had family in the area. This collection includes Custer’s correspondence with his beloved cousin, Augusta Frary, who lived in Canandaigua and Albion, New York.

As a historical figure, Custer is perhaps best known for his role as a Civil War general and for his “Last Stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, when he led his regiment against a substantially larger Native American force, resulting in a severe defeat for the U.S. Army, as well as his own death. In the five letters that constitute the Custer collection, we get a glimpse of the man behind the legend, from his youthful antics as a subpar student at West Point to his zeal for the excitement and adventure of war to his familial tenderness towards his cousin, wife, and children.

In typical Rochester Voices fashion, the Custer collection “brings history to life” by capturing Custer’s experiences in his own words. Visit Rochester Voices and explore Custer’s stories, as well as the stories of other historical figures who were once connected to the Rochester area.

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Local History CLOSED Thursday & Friday, February 19-20

under constructionThe Local History & Genealogy Division will be closed for renovations on Thursday, February 19, and Friday, February 20. The division will reopen to the public at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 21.

The renovations will accommodate the new Walter F. Becker Digital History Center, giving patrons access to state-of-the-art scanning equipment and other digital technologies. The new center will include seven ScanPro digital microfilm/microfiche readers, as well as a variety of photo and document scanners, all of which will be available for use for free. In addition, the new center will include an audiovisual collaboration station where patrons can work together on projects or listen to or view audio or video materials.

The division’s layout will be modified to provide a single point of service for patrons, as the formerly separate reference and vital records desks will be combined at a central location. In addition, patrons will find comfortable and roomier new computer desks and chairs.

Equipment installation will take place in phases over the next few weeks. Patrons will continue to have access to databases and microfilm readers throughout this process.

Thank you for your patience! We hope the final product will make any inconvenience worthwhile.

— Christine L. Ridarsky, Historical Services Consultant

Published in: on February 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm  Comments (2)  

Findmypast Partners with New York’s Largest Genealogical Organization to Bring Wider Access to New York Records

rochistory:

Findmypast.com is adding more New York State records to its digital database through a partnership with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Remember, you can use findmypast.com for free in the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Originally posted on Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter:

The following announcement was made today at the RootsTech and Federation of Genealogical Societies’ combined conferences in Salt Lake City, Utah:

  • Findmypast, one of the world’s fastest growing family history companies, partners with New York’s largest genealogical organization to bring wider access to New York records
  • Findmypast will be the new home of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society’s Digital Library, offering millions of records from across the United States.

Salt Lake City, Utah, 11 February 2015.Findmypast and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) announced today that Findmypast will host the newly expanded Digital Library of the NYG&B. The partnership will provide additional membership benefits for the one of the nation’s oldest genealogical organizations, while also offering a stream of new content to Findmypast’s growing collections.

View original 256 more words

Published in: on February 13, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Next in the “Rochester’s Rich History” Series…

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Researching African American Ancestry Just Got Easier

In observance of Black History Month, genealogy website Fold3 is opening up its Black History Collection for free access during the month of February, including more than a million photos and documents found nowhere else on the Internet.

The list includes collections from the slavery era, Civil War, Reconstruction, world wars, and the Civil Rights Movement.

You’ll need to sign up for a free Fold3 account (or log in if you already have an account) to access the records for free. Start searching Fold3’s Black History Collection here.

Another genealogy website, Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau, helps find African-American ancestors’ Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank Records after the Civil War. Free access is available from any computer and is not limited to this month. We also have a direct link on our computers in the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Whether you are your family’s historian or simply interested in American history, there is much to discover with these two new resources. Happy researching!

Freedmen's Bureau

Family Detectives Club February 2015

FamDetClub_FEB_2015_HS

Published in: on January 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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